Samsung ends FRAND litigation against Apple in Europe -- is peace near?

Is Hell freezing over? It's possible as Apple [AAPL] and Samsung seem a little closer to an uneasy peace this morning, following activity in the US and European courts.

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Request denied

Judge Lucy Koh has denied Apple's request to ban sales of 26 Samsung smartphone models in the US; the Judge also denied Samsung's motion for a new trial on strength of alleged jury misconduct.

In other words, Samsung has been declared guilty of abusing Apple's IP, but a ban on its products isn't required because of the commanding market position both firms enjoy -- in Koh's opinion the two firm's can fight it out in the open market.

The biggest surprise is Samsung's decision to end European FRAND-related injunction attempts against Apple. The company has dropped injunction requests against its foe in the UK, Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands “in the interest of protecting consumer choice," NextWeb informs.

In a statement provided to the title, Samsung said:

“Samsung remains committed to licensing our technologies on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, and we strongly believe it is better when companies compete fairly in the marketplace, rather than in court. In this spirit, Samsung has decided to withdraw our injunction requests against Apple on the basis of our standard essential patents pending in European courts, in the interest of protecting consumer choice.”

Innovation not litigation?

The decision may have been taken in reaction to a European Commission decision to launch an antitrust probe to ensure the Korean firm is offering fair access to patents it offers under industry-agreed FRAND agreements.

In a sense it doesn't matter too much if Samsung's decision was provoked by the EC investigation. Given that much of its litigation against Apple has been filed on the basis of use of FRAND patents the decision may hint at a step toward some form of peace with Cupertino.

It could be a good time to reach an arrangement. The US judgment gives Apple a basis on which to maintain its frequently stated position that Samsung used some of its ideas within its products. The company can use this to justify the litigation it has been involved in so far, saving face.

Samsung meanwhile can point to its decision to withdraw FRAND-related litigation as a sign that it is prepared to compete with Apple on the basis of products, not of patents. This means Samsung can be seen as reducing hostilities while maintaining a position of strength.

A move to peace?

It's debatable if these decisions will mark the beginning of a less litigious relationship between the two competitors. There are still plenty of cases outstanding in courts worldwide.

Customers have not been spellbound by the courtroom dramas which have driven critics on both sides to wish the two firms would compete through innovation, rather than litigation.

There has been benefit from the litigation for Samsung, which has been able to cast itself as Apple's biggest competitor while also grabbing the lion's share of smartphone sales.

It's open to question if these face-saving moves are significant enough to enable a new détente, but investors welcome Samsung's latest move -- Apple shares are up this morning.

In a sense this investor reaction justifies Judge Kohl's recent statement that an accord between the two firms would be: "Good for consumers, good for the industry and good for the parties."

With its decision to end FRAND-based litigation in Europe, Samsung could argue it has taken a step toward a negotiated, if uneasy, peace.

The question is what Apple's response will be once executives return from their Christmas break. In the event it chooses to end some of its litigation, there's no guarantee the two firms will be able to reach a sustainable compromise. Though there seems a little more chance.

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